Election results in India surprised political observers on May 16, as many predicted the country's ruling Congress party would suffer significant losses and perhaps lose control of the government. Instead, some 400 million voters handed the Congress party a resounding victory that secures its ability to press for its progressive agenda in a country of 1 billon people. Two groups lost big: Communists and members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party. Communists had long opposed the Congress party's efforts to move away from socialist policies and toward capitalism. But Communists lost more than half their Parliament seats. The BJP-a Hindu nationalist group-also lost seats and failed to tip power in their favor. That failure pleased Christian groups worried that the BJP would continue a campaign against religious minorities.
Astronaut Mike Massimino took Twitter into space with him, along with about 324,000 followers from the social messaging site, on the May mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. It was the second Hubble repair mission for the 46-year-old mission specialist, who spent several hours on two spacewalks this time, but his first with an online audience:
- From orbit: Rendezvous and grapple were great, getting ready for our first spacewalk - 7:59 AM May 14th from web
- From orbit: Just flew over the US, Baja to Miami in about 10 minutes! Beautiful Day!! - 11:35 AM May 18th from web
- From orbit: Hard to sleep last night after my spacewalk, images of the work and the views still vivid in my mind. - 11:36 AM May 18th from web
- From orbit: Eating chocolates in space, floating them in front of me then floating and eating them like I am a fish - 4:26 AM May 19th from web
- From orbit: We see 16 sunrises and sunsets in 24 hrs, each one spectacular as the sun lights up the atmosphere in a spectrum of colors - 6:06 PM May 19th from web
- From orbit: Finished packing up our big white spacewalking suits and securing them for a safe landing. - 9:51 AM May 21st from web
Documents revealed in an ongoing fraud case against the Milwaukee archdiocese show evidence of a cover-up in one of the worst molestation scandals to rock the Catholic Church. The documents indicate that former priest Lawrence Murphy, who died in 1999, abused as many as 200 children over a two-decade period. They further disclose the attempts of former Archbishop Rembert Weakland to suppress public awareness of such crimes. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) contends that the church has never fully acknowledged the extent of Murphy's actions at St. John's School for Deaf, which no longer exists. The archdiocese claims that it has long since acknowledged and condemned Murphy's acts as "a horrendous betrayal of his priestly vows." The church insists that necessary measures and policies are now in place to prevent any such conduct in the future.
Out of jail
Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick walked out of federal prison May 20, but his debt to society and the NFL, along with considerable debts to creditors, aren't fully paid. The superstar athlete, who spent 21 months behind bars after pleading guilty to charges of bankrolling a dog-fighting ring out of his home, must now spend two more months in home confinement, convince NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of his contrition, and submit a new plan to emerge from bankruptcy after a judge rejected an initial proposal for Chapter 11 in which Vick would maintain possession of two houses and three cars. Should Vick successfully navigate all such waters, the question remains as to whether any team will sign him. In the meantime, Vick plans to work with the Humane Society in a campaign to discourage young people from dog-fighting.
American Idol fans cast a record-breaking 100 million votes May 20 to hand Kris Allen a surprise victory over Idol favorite Adam Lambert. Although never referenced on the show, many commentators believe Allen's Christian faith was a factor in helping the 23-year-old church worship leader triumph over the theatrical Lambert, 27. As one of television's more family-friendly shows, Idol draws Christian viewers who may have sided with Allen after fellow Christian Danny Gokey was voted off the show.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh shouted, "I challenge you, MSNBC!" to his talking-head rivals. Irked by overexposure on the network, Limbaugh is asking his "good friends" at MSNBC to go a full month without discussing him on the air: "It is clear to me that MSNBC is hoping to build its ratings on my back." No word if MSNBC's evening tag-team of Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, both removed from NBC's presidential election coverage last fall for their bias, will consent to Rush withdrawal. But Limbaugh gave them some advice: "Stand on your own two feet. Stand on liberalism. Stand on what you believe."
The war fund
Congress passed the first spending bill with strong Republican support in May, a war spending supplemental.
What's in it:
- A healthy $85 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- aid to countries around the world, like Israel and Egypt;
- $900 million for Gaza and the West Bank for redevelopment of Palestinian territories;
- nearly $2 billion in aid to Pakistan; 0 and $2 billion to fight the global flu pandemic.
What's not in it:
- The House and Senate denied the president funding to close Guantanamo Bay until he presents a "comprehensive plan" on the "proposed disposition" of the military prison. President Obama had requested $80 million to close the facility.
As President Barack Obama greeted a crowd of 12,000 at the University of Notre Dame's commencement ceremony in South Bend, Ind., a quieter ceremony unfolded across campus where two dozen seniors gathered at the Catholic university's outdoor Grotto, refusing to attend their own graduation. They said a Catholic school shouldn't honor a pro-abortion politician who opposes traditional Catholic teaching. Obama addressed the abortion controversy directly: "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away." He said both sides could agree that this is "a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make" and called for programs to help reduce unintended pregnancies and promote adoption. Police arrested dozens of people who entered the school's private grounds to protest Obama's May 17 visit. Many pro-life seniors attended the ceremony with nearly 2,900 graduates, but the two dozen wearing caps and gowns in the Grotto instead heard a Catholic priest offer a prayer and call the graduates' names while family members looked on.
Hispanic Christians rallied to protest a bill legalizing same-sex marriage May 17 as the New York legislature debated the measure. "There's no human law that can deteriorate divine law," said Kittim Silva, board member for Radio Vision Cristiana International, which sponsored the rally along with the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization. Demonstrators played Dominican music and carried bilingual signs: "Un Hombre and Una Mujer = Voluntad de Dios. One Man and One Woman = God's Will." The New York State Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage the week before, sending it to the New York State Senate, where Democrats hold a slender majority and Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz leads vocal opposition to the bill. New Yorkers are evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, although almost two-thirds support same-sex civil unions. A similar bill passed the New York State Assembly in 2007 but died in the Senate.
Coke side of life & taxes
Congressional lawmakers are looking at taxing sodas and other sugary drinks as a way to pay for pending health-care reform, according to a recent Senate Finance Committee report saying the move will help fight obesity-a big driver of the nation's escalating health-care costs. Soft drink industry officials hope the soda tax quickly falls flat: "It's an overreach when government uses the tax code to tell people what to eat and drink," Kevin Kean with the American Beverage Association told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As of May 20, 26 schools in New York City were closed due to an increase in flulike illnesses possibly linked to swine flu, and the virus claimed the life of a 55-year-old assistant principal at a Queens public school. But so far, victims of the virus in the United States are people with underlying health conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 5,700 confirmed or probable swine flu cases and over 200 hospitalizations. Eight people in the United States have died, each with underlying health conditions, including lung and heart conditions. As of May 20, the World Health Organization reported 10,243 cases around the globe, including 80 deaths.
U.S. defense experts confirmed that Iran test-fired a new advanced missile May 20. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the launch of the solid-fuel Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 1,200 miles, capable of reaching Israel and U.S. bases in the Middle East. The announcement came just weeks before Iran's presidential election and two days after President Barack Obama met with Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu and declared a readiness to seek deeper sanctions against Tehran. Experts believe continued provocation from Ahmadinejad, who has promised to wipe Israel off the map, could prompt a preemptive strike by Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The State Department started a fundraising campaign via text messaging for the UN Refugee Agency working in Pakistan, along with pledging $110 million in additional aid to Pakistan May 19. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the funds will be directed toward 2 million people who have fled their homes in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the Swat Valley and other areas northeast of Islamabad and the Pakistani Army's assault to drive out the militants. The Taliban is increasingly pressuring Christians and other religious minorities in Swat to live according to Islamic customs. Christians try to blend in with Muslim residents by growing beards and wearing Islamic attire. Mano Rumalshah, Bishop of Peshawar, told Barnabas Fund he visited one church in Bannu, North West Frontier Province, desecrated by the Taliban last month. "Save Christianity in Pakistan or it will be eradicated," he said.
Pass the plate
Amid the limping economy, a North Texas church is taking an unusual approach to bolster giving: Pastor Toby Slough of Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle, Texas, began telling parishioners earlier this year to take from the offering plate as they have need. Slough says the first Sunday he made the announcement the church took in its largest offering ever. And the initiative has helped spark a churchwide movement of generosity that's resulted in the giving of half a million dollars to various individuals and charities over the past two months.